How selling a solution is different from selling a product

Today it is almost impossible to meet a product salesperson in the business-to-business sector. Everyone sells ‘solutions’ in the hope they can charge a premium or perform some miracle that will instantly differentiate them from their competitors.

And management—often ignorant of the subtle differences between selling products or services and selling solutions—becomes frustrated when they find the expected boom in sales doesn’t materialise; that their salespeople continue to face pressure for lower prices, better service delivery and a wider range of offerings.

The challenge is understanding what selling a solution requires. The real starting point for a truly solutions-selling orientation is at corporate philosophy and culture.

  1. Management needs to determine which segments they want to approach;
  2. Next, management should be exploring and identify how products or services need to be changed, extended or adjusted (if at all), to accommodate the expectations of the buyers in the sales segments. The key word here, is “expectations”. As opposed to product-related selling, solutions selling extends the value delivered by satisfying both needs and expectations;
  3. The next stage involves a serious re-think about the corporate philosophy. Companies need to be prepared to partner with other organisations in order to extend their flexibility; and
  4. Once these stages have been re-evaluated companies can start looking at their sales teams. Here there are a number of activities that should be considered that dramatically change the way salespeople sell.

Product and service selling is based on the salesperson’s ability to uncover a buyer’s need and then introduce the benefits of a product or service that will most closely and effectively satisfy that need. And that is a noble calling. But solutions selling is vastly different.

For starters, determining what solutions are required is based on value, not the features and benefits of the product or service.

Secondly, whereas the sales organisation defines the product features and benefits, buyers actually determine what an ideal solution is and its value. This makes the sales interaction more complex. And all of this means that salespeople need a broader business knowledge base, more industry expertise, and far greater analytical capabilities than salespeople selling products. They also need a different mindset and behaviour.

Most of the solutions are usually some combination of products, services, and possible additions. A company that wants to increase its position in the market and make the shift to solutions selling has to start with the way it thinks and builds its corporate, and then sales, strategy.

Simply giving salespeople some training and telling them to talk about solutions, rather than products won’t make the difference.

Remember everybody lives by selling something.

Sue Barrett is the founder and chief executive of the innovative and forward thinking sales advisory and education firm, Barrett and the online sales education & resource platform Striving to develop and deliver better sales standards and strategies to help people and businesses sell better, Sue is a sales philosopher, strategist, speaker, trainer, writer, adviser and selling better activist.


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